- Driver unit: mg5pro™ dynamic transducer
- Frequency Response: 18Hz~20 kHz
- Impedance: 32 ohm
- Sensitivity: 112dB @ 30 Hz / 1 mW
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Cable length: 1.3m quietcables™ II
Monday, December 29, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
4ch Architecture Design
Gain and Bass Booster switches
Stainless Steel Case With Chrome Color Anodized Finish
Rechargeable Li-Polymer Battery with integrated charging system
Charging is accomplished with either the USB cable or AC adapter
Up to 24 hours of play time
Measures 64.5L x 37W x 10H (mm), and weighs only 29g
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
- Driver unit: 10.7mm dynamic transducer
- Frequency Response: 10Hz~26 kHz
- Impedance: 20 ohm
- Sensitivity: 112dB/mW at 1 kHz
- Rated Power: 10mW
- Max power: 40mW
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Cable length: 1.3m
- 3 pairs of single silicone flange ear-tips (2 small, 2 medium, 2 large), and 1 pair of bi-flanges ear-tips. 1 shirt clip.
[UPDATE AGAIN] The review is ready. Click here to read.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Cyclone PR2, the second IEM under the Cyclone brand name. This IEM (along with its elder brother, the PR1, released early this year) is manufactured by the same company which made the Storm amp. Unfortunately it is unlikely we will see it being sold oversea as the company seems to limit its business to the China local market (as are many good headphone companies in China). MSRP RMB380 (*roughly US$55.60).
- Driver unit: 11mm dynamic transducer
- Frequency Response: 20Hz~22 kHz
- Impedance: 24 ohm
- Sensitivity: 104dB/mW at 1 kHz
- Rated Power: 10mW
- Max power: 40mW
- Plug: 3.5mm
- Cable length: 1.3m
- 3 pairs of single silicone flange ear-tips (2 small, 2 medium, 2 large), Foam ear-tip and bi-flanges ear-tips.
- Optional resistance cable (51 ohms) for extra sound quality.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Here are two graphs consist of test results from amp A and B. Consider that the black line representing the original frequency response curve and the colored line representing the amplified signal's frequency response curve, which graph do you think is better? A or B?
If your answer is either one of them, you'll be wrong. Taking the black line as baseline, both amplified signal are able to match the original signal in very linear fashion across the whole spectrum, thus both are equally good. What you want to pay attention to the graph is whether the signal is colored (bumped up or down) or not, not how flat or curve the line is.
Are you reading the right baseline?
Monday, December 15, 2008
NuForce NE-8, from the amplifier company NuForce. It has been released for a few weeks now but only recently the supply seems to become more stable. MSRP US$69.00
- Driver unit: 9mm
- Frequency Response: 20Hz~22 kHz
- Impedance: 12 ohm
- Sensitivity: 98+/-3dB/mW at 1 kHz
- Rated Power: 2mW
- Max power: 20mW
- Plug: 3.5mm
- weight: 10g
- 3 pairs of single flange ear-tips (2 small, 2 medium, 2 large)
- Carrying case
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Early this year, FiiO, a small Chinese electronic company that specializes in making accessories for portable music player, released a small amp (or volume booster if you like) called E3. Although the sale figure in main land China was never particularly good (due to various reasons), E3 soon made its way to eBay and speared like wild fire. The absent of competitor in the same price range makes E3 the king of its domain. The three things that make E3 a really good accessory to have are 1) it is cheap, often less than US$10. 2) it is small, no bigger than a pack of gum. 3) it has a permanent bass boost function, bigger bass is almost always better in the general consumers' ears. With the success of E3, FiiO soon realized that the overseas portable amp market is much bigger than they previously thought. Not too long after that, a newer, better amp debuted the E5 was in development.
I first learned about E5 development on FiiO forum. As my interest on E5 grew, I got into contact with FiiO and started to provide feedback from an user's standpoint (as part of the early E5 sampling group). Now as E5 was finally released into the market since last week, I can honestly say it is really a wonderful gadget to have.
E5 isn't really an audiophiles' gear - It is meant for practicality. It will not be the best sounding amp you will ever try (perhaps even far from it), but what it provides is an BIG price / performance ratio in a tiny package that is hard to beat. For US$25 (or less) each, I doubt you can find anything able to match its features. Whether you are a newbie looking for an beginner amp or an old bird looking for a more portable solution, take a look at E5 - you might be surprised as well.
Signal to Noise Ratio: >= 95 dB (A Weight)
Distortion: < 0.009% (10 mW) Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 100 kHz Suitable Headphone Impedance: 16 ohms - 300 ohms Weight: 30g Power Supply: build-in 200mAh rechargeable battery Dimensions: 44.2mm x 38 mm x 12.6 mm
1 x 60cm USB-A to mini USB cable
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The following is what I see as a simple guideline on what you should expect from an amp. Read through it and try to answer the question in the end before deciding whether an amp is indeed what you are looking for as the missing chain in searching for better sound quality.
A portable amp serves two general functions: 1) To replace the standard, lower in quality amplifying circuit in most portable music player in order to improve the overall sound quality. and 2) To provide enough 'juice' to audiophile's headphones which usually are much more demanding than most music player can handle. There are other purposes for using an amp, but I consider them to be minor and we won't discuss them here.
So why do we want to replace the internal amplification of our portable player? It is because most of them are designed for portability in mind thus the circuit must be compensated in both the size and material, resulting in an amplification circuit that are usually only good enough for basic task but inadequate for producing high quality sound. To totally avoid the internal amplification circuit, the usual method is to re-route the signal from the DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter, the chip that converts digital data to analog sound before the amplification takes place) to an external amplifier via a line-out port/jack/dock (i.e. the line-out-dock, or LOD, for iPod user). A real line-out signal is what known as the 'purest', unmodified, uncolored analog signal. But the fact is, most if not all portable player on the market doesn't really have a real line-out. Instead, they deploy a pseudo line-out by re-routing an signal from the amplifying circuit in maximum volume, mimicking the stronger, higher output power of a real line-out. For those who don't know about it, one of those player is your regular iPod (*see note 1). This is why a few years back, a group of people start to modify iPod and sell it as 'iMod', an iPod that has its real line-out signal re-routed to its port so the user can use it with an external amplifier to avoid the what they believe to be an unacceptable internal amplification circuit. As for those who can't afford the high price tag of the iMod, you just have to stick to the so called 'tempted' pseudo line-out of your iPod. Essentially you are just feeding an glorified headphone-out signal in close to maximum volume / output power to your portable amp. You often find people commenting that external amp must be used with a line-out signal or there will be no point - of course, they seldom consider the fact that their line-out signal isn't a real line-out at all. Instead, the tendency for audiophiles taking their idea to a religious level often blind them from seeing the truth. You as the reader must learn the simple fact that audiophiles, including me, are not always correct and you shall never take our advice as it is.
Now we move to the second objective for portable amplification: Providing more power to drive the high impedance, low sensitivity headphone (or more relevant to our discussion, IEM and earbuds). As we discussed before, portable player are generally compensated in their internal amplification, which means the power they can provide is very limited and unsuitable for difficult-to-drive earphones. In the audiophiles' world, we like to say that the earphone is 'underpowered'. The chance is, most of you who are reading this article probably don't have an high impedance, low sensitivity earphone that really required an amplifier to sound at its best. Many of you just want to get an amp because you got advice somewhere from someone who claims that portable amp is the best thing that happens in the portable player's world and you are not hearing high quality music unless you put an amp to the back of your portable player. What actually is closer to the truth is, amplifier is one of those thing that generally add very little value to the overall sound. It is the kind of thing you want to pay attention to until you got your source and headphone right so they can be benefited by amplification. If you are still using a sub$50 or $150 (or even a $300) IEM or earbuds, the chance is you will not notice too much improvement from amping, at least not really worth the hundreds of dollars you paid for a well known portable amp currently in the market. I have seen people using easy to drive IEM like the Shure SE530 or the Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10 Pro with iPod and an amp even bigger than the iPod on-the-go. For your average users, the setup might seen unpractical and often it is. Most IEM in the market are very sensitivity and easy drove by an portable player (and usually it is how they are designed to be), adding an amp to squeeze out the last 3% to 5% of sound quality should be the least of your concern when you can get more obvious improvement from headphone or source upgrade (or even by getting better music bitrates). You should consider an amp when you know your headphone is difficult to drive (which will benefit most from amping), or else the return will not be as dramatic as you wish it to be.
Is it ideal to amp signal from headphone-out? Probably not, but one has to make do with the equipments at hands. Is it really important to amp a sensitive earphone even though it is fine by headphone-out? Definitely not, but I can assure you some people will think differently. The art of balancing portability, practicality and music enjoyment is what important here. You must ask yourself one simple questions: 'Is it really necessary?'
If you still can't figure out the answer at this point, I'll suggest you start by using a smaller, cheaper amp. Either a Cmoy amp from eBay or something like a FiiO E5 should keep your wallet intact while providing a taste of portable amp. Just remember: Music enjoyment is from the heart, not from the gears.
Note 1: Post 5.5G iPod models do have a direct line-out (via LOD) based on Apple's own DAC chip. It is still arguable whether it sounds better than iMod, but it is said to be the best , clearest line-out signal across all generation of iPod.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, the first balanced armature based headphone from Apple. It has dual transducer on each side in a two-ways configuration. It comes with an in-line controller and mic but not compatible with iPhone... go figure. MSRP US$79.
- Drivers: Custom two-way balanced armature (woofer and tweeter in each earpiece)
- Frequency response: 5Hz to 21kHz
- Impedance (at 100Hz): 23 ohms
- Sensitivity (at 100Hz): 109 dB SPL/mW
- Cable length: 1065 mm from audio jack to splitter; 330 mm to earpiece
- Weight: 0.4 ounce (10.2 grams)
- Four-conductor 3.5 mm audio jack
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Tour In-Ear Headphone, the second headphone in the Beats by Dr. Dre series from Monster, the company that is famous for its MonsterCable brand. There isn't any detail spec on this IEM. Consider it is made by Monster and bearing the name of Dr. Dre, do you really need to know the spec? MSRP US$150.
- Cable length: 3.94 ft./1.2 m
- Weight: 0.71 oz./20 g
- Carrying case
- Three pairs of standard Monster-designed eartips
- Two pairs of different-sized triple-layer "Airlocks" tri-flanges eartips
Friday, December 5, 2008
To understand this topic, you need to understand some essential differences between loud speaker and headphone. A reputable loud speaker manufacturer usually like to advertise their product for having a flat frequency response (FR). The important of having a flat FR is that it means the speaker won't add or subtract sound from the amplifier's signal. It will just sound as what it is intended to sound like. In the case of a non-flat FR, the speaker is said to 'color' the sound by increasing or decreasing the sound pressure level on certain region (i.e. extra bass or treble that is not supposed to be there). People who are into Hi-Fi usually like to avoid coloration as much as possible. After all, they want high fidelity, not high fiddle-ity. Here is where neutral meets natural: The speaker is said to be neutral (flat) sounding when there isn't any coloration (non-flat FR), which means it is also most truthful to the recording thus it is closest to what sounding natural. In the headphone world, however, neutral does not equal to natural. When you use speaker, the sound travels through the room, interacting with the wall, furnitures, your body, and your outer ears before reaching your eardrum. Every interaction during the process affects the final FR you hear, meaning it is not likely that the FR measured in your ear canal will be as flat as the FR of the speaker . If the FR is not longer flat, why do we called it natural sounding? That's because interaction is part of the natural process of how sound travels through space. When using headphone (especially IEM), many of those interaction do not take place. If headphone has a flat FR, you will probably hear a flat FR, which is not normally what you will hear when you are listening to speaker. To compensate, headphone manufacturers will tuned the FR of their headphone so it will better resemble the FR after the speaker's sound travels through the room. A common example will be the extra bass response most headphones have. lower bass note are often felt by the skin and heard by the ears at the same time, so the impression of hearing low bass note is a mixture of auditorial and tactile sensation. Since headphone transducer are much smaller (and move much less air), headphone user often 'not feeling' enough bass when the FR is flat. To compensate, headphone manufactures give their headphone an extra bass response so more air is moved and the user can better 'feel' the bass note as they would like when they are using speaker . This is why coloration is more favorable than being neutral (flat FR), thus coloration is what sounding more natural to the users, not flat, neutral FR.
So what kind of FR actually sounds more natural to an IEM user? There isn't a clear, straight answer I can give you. To add to the complex issue of what kind of tuning results in a more natural sound, we still have to consider the fact that each of us hears thing differently - we all have our very own FR curve due to aging and hearing damage accumulated over time. When you add the difference in musical taste to the big mix, there is impossible to tell what would sound most natural to you. However, there is one thing we can be sure of: Neutral and natural are not created equally in the IEM world.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
• Frequency response: 18Hz-22KHz
• Sensitivity (1KHz, 0.1V): > 100dB
• Maximum SPL output: >120dB
• Lightweight aluminum alloy body
• High-fidelity 9mm neodymium drivers
• 3 pairs/sizes (L,M,S) of eartips
• Gold-plated 3.5mm stereo plug
• 2.5mm and air travel plug adapters
• 2-ft extension cable
• Premium carrying case
• Lifetime warranty
Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
The iM-390 comes in a hard plastic seal, not my favorite but it is typical of IEM of its price range. In it, you will find a treasure box of goodies. Besides the IEM, you will find three set of different sized single flange eartips, an small extension cable, one airplane adapter and one 2.5mm adapter and a hard carrying case. It is apparent that Maximo is paying a lot of attention to detail. The extension cable is really light and well made. Though it is a bit on the short side (I'll prefer it to be 3-ft instead), it is one of the best extension cable I have ever seen. What made it so great is its light weight and light build. It is barely noticeable when used. The other thing that worth noticing is the high quality hardcase. It resembles Shure's hardcase, except it is more refined. Instead of only having limited space for the IEM itself like the Shure's, Maximo's hardcase has extra space for putting the two adapters inside and it can still be closed with ease.
The earpiece itself are made entirely of aluminum alloy with the brand and L/R lasered on it. The downside is there isn't a stress relief on the earpeice. Instead there is a ball shaped extra metal piece to guide the cable. One extra interesting thing is the Y-splitting junction on the cable is much further down than normal IEM but no wire guide is included to allow the user to control the length. Though there are some very minor issue, I think the iM-390 is really good in overall build quality. iM-390 also comes with a lifetime warranty, which is rare in the headphone market in general.
The one thing I hope Maximo will include in their future IEM is the bi-flanges.
I like the jack/socket design on the cable of both iM-390 and (especially ) the extension cable. They are light and small and they don't get into the way like most other extensions do.
This is most definitely one of the best hard case I have seen for IEM. Maximo has done a well job here.
I used my iriver clix2 in the all important sound quality check, mainly playing high quality ripped LAME MP3 or WMA VBR music. One thing that doesn't get mentioned in iM-390 spec is its impedance, which is around 16 ohms if my measurement is correct. The low impedance means it is fairly easy to drive and no amp is required. Noise isolation is about as typical as other IEM that utilized single flange eartips (i.e. CX300, EP-630, etc). It is adequate for daily use but probably not going to be enough in a really loud environment. Cable noise (microphonics) is also about typical of its kind, acceptable but nothing spectacular to comment about.
iM-390 spots a warmish, energetic sound with focuses on the mid and bass section. Treble is a bit roll off but there are still enough sparkles. It does not have a highly detail sound but should be enough to satisfy non-analytical listener. Mid is full and slightly forward sounding especially on the vocal section makes it good for most Pop and Rock music. Bass is strong and impactful without losing control or becomes over bloated. It should be enough even if you are a basshead. Soundstage is about average but with a sense of airiness in it. Overall, it is a musical sounding IEM that suits most common genre of music.
With a sound quality that are above most budget class IEM, good build quality, and an assortment of accessories (includes a great looking and functioning case) plus a lifetime warranty, I think it is hard for me not to recommend iM-390 to you. If you are looking for an basic model IEM for casual usage or thinking about a decent sounding IEM as a backup pair for your more expensive main portable rig, I think Maximo iM-390 is definitely worthy as an serious consideration.
Sum-up *(see below)
Transducer: Single 9mm dynamic transducer
Spec: 16Ω (@1kHz) | 18Hz~ 22kHz | >100dB SPL
Cord Style: Y-cord, 1.10m.
Mini Jack Style: Gold-plated straight style, Light build.
Eartips Used: Stock single flanges
Packaging: ★★★★ (good packaging, but nothing spectacular)
Build Quality: ★★★★☆ (very solid quality, but I would like to see a wire guide)
Accessories: ★★★★★ (A lot of goodies for the price)
Isolation: ★★★ (typical for IEM in similar design)
Microphonics: ★★★ (again, typical)
Comfort: ★★★★★ (single flanged IEM is usually quite comfortable)
Soundstage: ★★★ (average)
Sound Quality: ★★☆ (Warm, energetic, musical but doesn't have a lot of detail. Good vocal and bass response suitable for most genre of music. Very good for IEM in its price range.)
Value: ★★★★☆ (Solid build, great accessories, and decent sound make this IEM a real keeper)
Remark: Not many IEM in the sub-$50 category are capable of doing everything right. More than often they have some kind of major short coming that lower their overall value. I am happy to say iM-390 isn't one of those. I am quite impressed by the solid performance and value of iM-390, especially since it isn't from a dedicated audio brand. If you have only $40 to spend on IEM, this one should be in your list of consideration.
*see my multiple IEM review to understand how the rating system work.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Other IEM that make their debut in the last week or so are the s-JAYS from JAYS@Sweden and Audéo PFE (“Perfect Fit Earphones”) by Phonak@Swiss. The s-JAYS utilizes a kind of rounded (instead of the more common box-shaped) balanced armatures transducer named 'Siren' which I believe is made by Knowles, one of the largest balanced armature transducer manufacturer in the world. On the other hand, the Audéo PFE from Phonak has a single drived, sideway mounting balanced armatures transducer that seem to resemble the TopFire transducer on UE's new Super.fi 5. Just proves that you can't keep a good idea all to yourself.
Westone 3, the first true universal IEM that deploys three balanced armature transducers with a three-way crossover network. MSRP US$399.
- Driver: Triple balanced armature
- Sensitivity: 107 dB SPL
- Frequency response: 20 Hz -18 kHz
- Impedance: 30 ohms
- Driver: Three balanced armature
- Features: Soft padded travel case, ten different eartips, and wax loop for cleaning.
- Standard Color: Black
- Driver: Single balanced armature
- Sensitivity: 107 dB @ 1 mW
- Frequency range: 5 Hz – 17 kHz
- Impedance: 32 Ohm @ 1 kHz
- Cable: 110 cm / 3.6 ft (Y-style), straight 3.5 mm gold-plated plug, microphone (optional)
- Accessories: Carrying case, silicon tips (S/M/L), Comply foam tips (M), cleaning tool, acoustic filters, silicon ear guides
- Drive: Single SIREN balanced armature
- Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL @ 1 kHz
- Frequency range: 20Hz - 20 kHz
- Impedance; 69 Ohm @ 1 kHz
- Cord: L 0.60 m (~24 inch) + 0.90 m (~35 inch) extension cord, W 2/1.5 mm (0.079/0.059 inch)
- Weight: 10 grams (0.35 oz)
- Plug: Gold-Plated Stereo Mini-Plug 3.5 mm (1.8 in)
Important: All postings are my own personal opinion only and should not be treated as absolute truth. I do get things wrong just like everyone else. Always do your own research!